Historical Notes on U.S. Diplomacy

FY 2005 Performance and Accountability Report
Bureau of Resource Management
November 2005


Diplomacy's Best Deal

In 1803, two U.S. diplomats, American Minister to France Robert Livingston and Special Negotiator James Monroe, concluded the largest real estate transaction ever when they secured the entire territory of Louisiana for the United States. Although Livingston and Monroe exceeded the orders of President Thomas Jefferson—and their spending limit—the deal was too good to pass up. As Livingston reported, the French Treasury Secretary urged him to "Consider...the importance of having no neighbors to dispute you, no war to dread." The Americans did, and two weeks later on April 30, 1803, the French agreed to sell the entire territory for the bargain price of $15 million.


Diplomacy and the Telegraph

At the end of the Civil War in 1865, diplomatic reports to and from our missions abroad moved at the pace of ships crossing the ocean. But everything changed the following year with the completion of the transatlantic cable linking the United States and Europe. Just a few months later, the Department of State established a telegraphic office to handle the important new messages. Although diplomats learned to write more concisely, the Department warned that it was expensive and not to be used "except when justified by the importance and urgency of the case..." Diplomats took the message to heart and trimmed their prose accordingly. In 1881, the U.S. Minister to Russia, John W. Foster, earned the distinction of sending the shortest diplomatic dispatch. "Emperor Dead," he wrote. No one since has crafted a more concise cable.


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